Wine Additives and Legit American Chemicals
In 1985, a scandal that emerged in Germany shocked the wine world. The German authorities responsible for monitoring wine quality reported traces of diethylene glycol (a commercial solvent) in many low-end wines. Diethylene glycol is known to have a sweet taste, but is a toxic chemical utilized to reduce the freezing point of water and is often used in anti-freeze agents.
After further investigations, investors subsequently discovered that the producer of the German wine in question was illegally blending its wines with several Austrian wines. Although no causalities were reported to such flagrant violation of wine laws and the affected wines were immediately withdrawn from the market, the corresponding news and the subsequent media scare “did a number” on countless wine consumers worldwide.
Since this scandal, many concerns have been raised about the use of additives (or chemicals) added to wine during the production process. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes and keeps tabs on the chemicals that winemakers are allowed to add. While wine is one of the only beverages with no ingredient label, it can contain 76 different FDA-approved chemicals known as additives.
How Many Chemicals Are Added To Wine?
Many of the wines sold today contain up to 98% water and ethanol combined, while the remaining 2% of the beverage contains various FDA-allowed additives. These chemicals impact the quality of the wine, and they play a key role in giving wines their distinct color, flavor, individuality, and aroma. These additives include tannins, aroma compounds, sugars, volatile flavors, acids, and pigment compounds.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, they do not intend for these additives to inflict any harm on wine consumers. In addition, they do not degrade the product. Their job is to stabilize the wine and increase its shelf life. Interestingly, wine additives are not a modern day invention. In fact, additives have been an essential part of the winemaking process since the earliest days of winemaking.
Did you Know: The Ancient Greeks often added additives to their wine to improve the taste, including herbs, sea water, perfumes, and pine resin.
Another interesting fact about the wine additives (or chemicals) is that some “latch” onto impurities that might have found their way into the wine during the production process. These additives’ job is to eliminate them by the end of wine production.
Before we highlight various types of additives, it is worth mentioning that wine additives are generally classified into two distinct groups — corrective and common. As the names imply, the common additives are utilized to ease the winemaking process, whereas the “corrective additives” are added to fix problems during wine production.
Popular Wine Additives
Additives in the wine industry are very strict, especially in France, Italy, and the USA.
As mentioned earlier, the role of common wine additives is to make the production process go smoothly. They are usually added at the beginning or end of the winemaking process (e.g., fermentation).
Top on the list of common additives are antioxidants and antiseptics. Some examples of common additives are sulfites, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium bisulfate), fermentation nutrients, organoleptic additives (oak barrels and chips), fining and clarification additives, and stabilization additives.
Some examples of corrective additives include polyphenol, copper sulfate, and sweeteners or enrichers. Having mentioned their names, let’s touch on each of these wine chemicals/additives.
Common Wine Additives
The most popular antioxidant (and wine antiseptic) is sulfite, which is used by the winemaking industry to prevent wine from turning into vinegar. Besides preventing wine aromas from deteriorating and oxidizing, sulfites (sulfur dioxide) also hinder the growth of bad bacteria and unwanted yeast.
Sulfites can also be utilized to sanitize equipment and at different points of winemaking, such as harvesting (where sulfite is sometimes sprayed on grapes before they are brought into the winery), fermentation (winemakers use them to stop fermentation), and bottling — to increase the shelf life of wines.
Fermentation nutrients help yeast during fermentation. A typical example of fermentation nutrients is Thiamine. It is used to keep the yeast alive and push it to finish the fermentation process. Primarily, Thiamine is added to wine with over 14% alcohol concentration.
Organoleptic additives come in handy for altering or impacting wine flavor and taste profile. Similarly, various fining and clarification additives like tannins help wine age well — improving the body, texture, and flavor.
These additives are used to correct or fix problems during the winemaking process, like reducing astringency. stabilizing wine color, restoring taste, and correcting foul odors caused by hydrogen sulfide. In addition, they can add sweetness and enhance acidity to create a stable wine.
A rundown of chemicals that can be legally added include sulfur, yeast, acids (acidifiers, such as Malic, Tartaric, and Citric acids) and de-acidifiers, such as calcium carbonate, protease (trypsin and pepsin), and stabilizers.
To read more check out these articles:
On this Day in History
December 27, 1822 — Louis Pasteur was born in Dole, France. He was a chemists during the mid-1800s who explored the fermentation process. He was able to prove that living organisms play a role in the fermentation process. His findings in 1857 shaped the knowledge of both fermentation, pasteurization, and their applications in winemaking.
June 30, 1906 — On this day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created. It is an administrative body saddled with the responsibility of protecting and ensuring public safety (including, food supply and drugs) in the United States.
Want to read more? Try these books!
- “The Ultimate Guide to Wine Making Additives & Chemicals”. 2022. Advanced Mixology. https://advancedmixology.com/blogs/art-of-mixology/wine-making-additives-guide.
- “Common Wine Additives And Why They Matter | Saucey Blog”. 2022. Saucey. https://blog.saucey.com/wine-additives/.
- Picture link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/Fermentation_barrels_in_Dambach-la-Ville.jpg